[Working Paper] South Korea and Indo-Pacific Security: Building New Networks Beyond the “Quad”
Working Paper | 2020-12-03
Lindsey W. Ford
On November 13, 2020, the EAI and Brookings institution jointly held the 2nd online seminar of the
Quotes from the Paper
The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the “Quad”) has emerged as one of the highest-profile initia-tives associated with the Trump administration’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific" concept. Renewed attention to the Quad reflects long-standing U.S. efforts to shift from a bilateral hub-and-spoke model of Asian security toward a networked approach that encourages new “multiparty arrange-ment(s)” with “our strongest, most important allies”. Yet the Republic of Korea (“South Korea”), one of the region’s leading middle powers and a close U.S. ally, is notably absent from this forum.
South Korea, the Free and Open Indo-Pacific, and the Quad
The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue first met in 2007, emerging from a more informal Australia-India-Japan-U.S. core group that was established to coordinate responses to the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. Although the group failed to gain traction in 2007, partially due to China’s strong objec-tions, it was revived after a decade-long hiatus in November 2017. While media reports frequently depict the dialogue as an anti-China containment mechanism or the precursor to a more formal “Asian NATO”, participating nations themselves have pushed back against these characterizations, stressing the positive sum ambitions of the dialogue. Moreover, official statements from recent dis-cussions consistently emphasize the non-exclusive nature of the grouping, and its role as just one among many elements of a broader, ASEAN-centric security architecture.
Looking Ahead: Challenges and Opportunities
Two lessons are apparent in reviewing South Korea’s defense ties with Australia and India over the past decade. First, there are common linkages across South Korea’s defense ties with Quad coun-tries that could provide a solid foundation for multilateral engagement. As per Figure 1 (below), South Korea engages in a high-level 2+2 dialogue, maritime exercises, and defense technology co-operation with Australia, India, and the United States, while both India and the United States have concluded logistics agreements with South Korea. South Korea also has some variation on a classi-fied information sharing agreement with all four countries.
As the Moon administration continues to develop its New Southern Policy, defense cooperation should be an integral piece of its partnership-building activities with other Asian partners. Although South Korea enjoys a strong alliance with the United States, its influence as a leading Asian middle power would be enhanced by developing stronger security partnerships with other like-minded In-do-Pacific partners. Current debates around Korean participation in the Quadrilateral Security Dia-logue risk undermining this interest, by implicitly placing form over function and creating an overly narrow focus on a single dialogue mechanism. The more important goal for both Seoul and allied capitals should be to enhance South Korea’s contributions to regional security through its participa-tion in regional defense networks. Instead of looking to the Quad to achieve this goal, policymakers should instead focus on strengthening bilateral and trilateral defense ties between South Korea and Quad countries. This initiative would not only enhance South Korea’s influence beyond Northeast Asia, it would also provide a new area of cooperation for the US-Korea alliance, making it more rel-evant to the needs of the broader Indo-Pacific region.
The Prospect of North Korea’s denuclearization under the Biden administration and South Korea’s tasks
Given these backdrop, North Korea policy of the next US Biden administration is likely to be very critical for the future negotiation for denuclearization of the North. Biden’s approach, so far, can be summarized as follows: first, principled pragmatism which will be the guiding line for bottom-up approach with North Korea will prevail; second, cooperation with South Korea and other East Asian allies will be essential in accomplishing denuclearization of North Korea; third, to prevent further development of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities is important with a view to the ultimate purpose of complete denuclearization; and fourth, human rights in North Korea will be an essential concern for the Biden administration.
Lindsey W. Ford is a David M. Rubenstein Fellow in the Foreign Policy program. She is also an adjunct lecturer at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. Her research focuses on U.S. defense strategy in the Asia-Pacific region, including U.S. security allianc-es, military posture, and regional security architecture. Ford is a frequent commentator on Asian se-curity and defense issues and her analysis has been featured by outlets including the New York Times, the Wall St. Journal, the Financial Times, Politico, Foreign Policy, the Straits Times, CNN, MSNBC, and Bloomberg. She graduated with a master’s in public affairs and Asian studies from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas-Austin, and a bachelor’s in vocal performance from Samford University. director for political-security affairs at the Asia So-ciety Policy Institute (ASPI). From 2009-15, She served in a variety of roles within the Office of the Secretary of Defense. She also served as the senior adviser to the assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affair. She was also a leading architect of the Asia rebalance strategy work for the Department of Defense’s 2012 “Defense Strategic Guidance Review” and oversaw the development of the Department’s first “Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy” in 2015.
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